35.1: Pollination and Flower Structure
Flowers are the reproductive, seed-producing structures of angiosperms. Typically, flowers consist of sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels. Sepals and petals are the vegetative flower organs. Stamens and carpels are the reproductive organs.
Flowers must be pollinated to produce seeds. In angiosperms, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of the stamen (the male structure) to the stigma of the carpel (the female structure). Flowers may be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated. However, most plants have developed mechanisms that prevent self-pollination.
Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen among flowers of separate plants. Cross-pollination is often carried out by animals—most commonly insects—called pollinators. Pollinators carry pollen on their bodies from flower to flower.
Plants evolved to attract different pollinators, which accounts for much of the abundant variety of features found in flowers. For example, bees are most attracted to bright blue and yellow flowers with sweet fragrances, while flies are drawn to fleshy flowers that smell like rotting meat.
Many birds are also pollinators. While birds often have a weak sense of smell, many are attracted to bright red and yellow flowers with sweet nectar. Certain bat species also pollinate. The lesser long-nosed bat, for example, pollinates agave and cactus species as it eats their nectar and pollen.
Some plants are pollinated by wind or water, rather than animals; such flowers are often dull and lack nectar. Grasses, for example, often have green, odorless flowers that release many tiny, wind-dispersed pollen grains.
While many flowers have stamens and carpels, some flowers are unisexual—lacking either functional stamens or carpels. Sometimes, both types of unisexual flower are on the same plant. In other cases, flowers with stamens and flowers with carpels are found on different plants. Additionally, some plants can alternate between producing male flowers, female flowers, and both flower types.